Friday, April 23, 2010

Childhood Favorites

Dear Ms. Musings seems to pop back and forth between America and GB in a way that would probably exhaust me. Luckily, in this day and age of FB and blogs, I can live vicariously through her without suffering the exhaustion, and I also benefit greatly, because she brings me back Mars Bars. Eating Mars Bars on a fairly regular basis, which is something I hadn't done in years, has led me to think about how some foods that I loved as a child have changed almost beyond recognition. They are no longer any good. I would question whether the foods themselves have changed or whether I just have so many dead taste buds now that I can't taste them the way I did as a child. Possibly, it's just my faulty, aging memory.

But no, there are enough examples of foods that have not changed to convince me that it's the manufacturers and their obsession with "new and improved" (you can guarantee when you see that, that the "improved" is referring to an improvement in what was the high cost of producing whatever it is, not in the quality of whatever it is itself. The quality will suffer greatly, while the Check Spellingmanufacturer saves a bundle by, for instance, using some cheaply manufactured substitute instead of real cream, thus "improving" their margins), not my poor taste buds or memory, that have caused some foods to go bad. I've decided to share with you some examples of the foods that are still just as good as ever:

Mars Bars (the English version, not that American thing with snow white nougat and almonds -- although that was pretty good, too. Do they even make those anymore? I haven't seen one in years)
Do not mistake the American Milky Way for some sort of substitute. The Milky Way Bar (even the dark chocolate version) does not measure up in any way, shape, or form. It is a testament to how much I love this particular chocolate bar (must call it a "chocolate" and not a "candy" bar in deference to its nationality) that it is milk chocolate, and I (a dark-chocolate-the-darker-the-better-kinda-gal) still love it. It hasn't changed a bit in the 41 years I've been eating it: very thick chocolate, stringy caramel, and not-too-soft nougat. It's so sweet it can make your teeth hurt, so you need to eat it slowly, and it's the perfect accompaniment to any book.

Cheez Doodles
These are not to be confused with Cheetoes (although those are quite tasty too). I could easily eat a whole barrel full of these tasty little snacks. I don't care that my insides would then probably be stained that hideous orange color for life. Nothing else has the same salty, fake cheesiness as the original Cheez Doodle. Nothing else has the right combination of soft crunchiness (Pirate Booty tries, and comes close, but it's just a bit too crunchy at the end, the point at which it should be completely soft). Nothing else melts on the tongue quite the same way, if you let it. Nothing else hurts the roof of your mouth in the same way, if you eat way too many of them way too fast, giving you that 2-day reminder, every time you drink a hot liquid, of how good they were.

The Whopper, Jr.
This little hamburger was my first foray into the world of fast food. Sometimes, my mother would pick me up from kindergarten and I'd be all alone with her (a rare treat when you have 3 siblings), and we'd go out to lunch. I loved the Woolworth lunch counter and a local restaurant/ice cream shop called Mayberry's, but my favorite place to eat was Burger King, where I could eat exactly 1/2 a Whopper, Jr. and drink a small chocolate shake (back in the days when "small" meant "small," not "a tad bit less gigantic than large." By the way, the chocolate shake is one of those foods that has changed. They are still as thick as ever, but are not the least bit chocolate-y anymore and are pretty much indistinguishable from the vanilla shakes). I still love the Whopper, Jr -- the food that taught me that mayonnaise and catsup together were a great combination for a hamburger. I like that char-broiled flavor, which is why I've always preferred Burger King to McDonalds. The regular Whopper is too big and messy, still, but the Jr. is just the right size. I eat them very rarely, but they are my fast food of choice when I'm on the road.

Swedish Fish
Not much in this world provides a better sugar fix than these wonderful, chewy, sweet little gems. And there are so many different ways to eat them. You can bite into the head and pull and stretch the body. You can pop it into your mouth and suck on it. You can pop it into your mouth and chew. Or you can combine these various ways of eating one fish. Really, they are one of the world's most perfect candies. I like the multi-colored, multi-flavored, original sized ones the best, but I'll take all-red, if that's all you've got. I'll also take the mini-size (so cute but harder to stretch), if that's all you've got. Oh, and here are some words of advice from someone in the know: beware if you ever visit Lancaster County, PA. In some of the country stores around here, they sell these jellied fish that are not the same and that are very disappointing if you think you are getting Swedish fish. You must make sure they say "Swedish fish" on them to get the real thing. Luckily, the candy shop that is within walking distance of my house, makes the right kind. Also, beware the adult drink known as the Swedish fish. As good as the candy, but lethal. You have no idea you are drinking alcohol.

Frozen Chicken Pot Pie
Here in Lancaster County, there's this stuff everyone calls "chicken pot pie" that isn't. It's a chicken stew with big, flat noodles on top. Everyone else in the world knows that chicken pot pie should have a crust (it's a "pie" after all). And it should come in its own tiny little pie pan. It shouldn't have too many frozen peas and carrots, but a few are fine. It most definitely needs to be very salty and to be so hot that you probably burn your tongue on the gravy with that first bite. Oh, and it's best served by the babysitter who ignores all bedtimes and no-television rules when your parents are out for the night (or, better yet, away for the weekend).

Lucky Charms
They've added some new marshmallow shapes and colors, but the taste hasn't changed a bit. In composing this list, I'm beginning to realize I must have been a little masochist as a child (so, what's changed?), as this is yet another food that could rub the roof of the mouth raw if eaten too fast. But isn't it delicious in its perfect mix of sugary oat crunch and even more sugary marshmallow bits? I love the way those marshmallows are hard and crunchy until they soak a little in the milk. I love the way they sweeten the milk. I just plain love them.

Campbell's Tomato Soup
The comfort food to beat all comfort food. I like the heart-attack-in-a-can-full-salt version. I like to make it with milk, so it's creamy. It's especially good with a greasy grilled cheese sandwich. And again, a great accompaniment to any book.

Keebler's Pecan Sandies
They're so nice and thick. They're so buttery (even, if I suspect, it isn't real butter. I've never checked the ingredients). Again, they are that perfect combination of crunchy that melts correctly on the tongue. I had a boyfriend once who introduced me to the fabulous combination of putting pecan sandies in the bottom of a bowl and topping them with vanilla ice cream.

Now here's my question: if I remember correctly, my mother was, by and large, a health food fanatic. She strictly controlled our diets when we were kids. Junk food was rarely to be found in our cabinets. How is it that I developed such strong attachments to all this junk food?

And now, as you may have guessed, I am starving. Alas, I have none of these foods in my kitchen. I hope I didn't make you hungry as well.


christina said...

This post was great! I loved reading your descriptions and I could almost hear your childhood squeals! And you were so-so-so accurate about most of the food. Yum.

litlove said...

What a great post! What I recall about childhood treats were these meringues shaped like Dougal from the Magic Roundabout (do you have that in America?) so, like a creamy, fluffy long-haired dog. There would be a little pink tongue stuck on the face, too. I loved them, though I could rarely eat a whole one (snacks were a lot bigger back then!).

Stefanie said...

This was fun. I loved Capmbell's Tomato soup when I was a kid and it usually came accompanied by a grilled cheese sandwich. Apart they were delicious but together they were the ulimate is comfort food.

Emily Barton said...

Christina, glad you enjoyed it. You must have great taste in food.

Litlove, ooo, meringues shaped like Dougal. I never saw those, but I love meringues. We didn't have the Magic Roundabout in America, that I know of, but I'm familiar with it (and Dougal, although had forgotten the name. However, I could instantly picture him from your description) from trips to England when I was a kid.

Stef, yes, it's almost sacriligious to eat Campbell's tomato soup without a grilled cheese sandwich.